Tips on creating a kid-friendly restaurant

Many restaurants claim to be "kid friendly" and welcoming to families. But what exactly does that mean?

According to Out to Eat With Kids founder and CEO (and mother) Jennifer Bilbro, there is a laundry list of givens. She writes:

I expect there to be a changing station in the bathroom. Huge bonus if there's one in the men's room as well. I expect there to be high chairs and booster seats. I expect there to a children's menu that my kids can color on while we are waiting on the food. I expect a kid's cup with a lid.

That being said, I love when a restaurant surprises me with gestures that only parents can appreciate. It's these little things that get talked about the next week at Gymboree.

Here are just a few, affordable ways restaurants can raise their "kid friendly" status and have parents, grandparents, and kids talking about how great they are:

1. Step stool in the bathrooms

This $15 Rubbermaid step stool creates independence. My 2 year old can now reach the faucet, wash her own hands, while I hold the baby carrier and wash my hands. With this small investment, you've potentially circumvented an "I do myself" meltdown, calmed a parent, and made the bathroom experience with two children not a nightmare.

2. Basket of Books/Games

A community basket of books near the hostess stand at a restaurant is a clever way to engage kids after the coloring sheet is done. Yes, parents probably have a few books in tow for this very reason; however, the 4 year old that can get up from the table, choose his own book from the community basket, and return to the table independently, now has a JOB to do.

It takes his mind off of waiting on food and gives him responsibility: reading the book, taking care of the book, and returning the book to the basket when he's finished with it. Offering a wide range of books and some inexpensive games can foster family time at the table.

3. Crayons Plus

 Restaurants save money by not throwing away unused crayons and teach children to be responsible for something that doesn't belong to them. The box itself turns into an activity for little ones: put the crayons in, take them out, close the box, open the box, count the crayons, sort the crayons. The box could also store a few stickers that would get the creative juices flowing for a child that enjoys coloring.

4. Drinks Included

The fastest way for a restaurant to be deemed not "kid friendly" by a group of moms is to have this phrase tacked on your kid's menu: "Drinks Not Included." Ouch! Seeing the drink included tag on a menu is like whispering to your customer, "we got your back."

5. The Bonus

I recently crossed paths on Twitter with Scott Wise who owns several Scotty's Brewhouse locations in Indiana. One peek at the kid's menu and a huge smile came across my face. In addition to their kids-eat-free offering, they say this: "Moms and Dads, we will cut your kids' food into bite sizes in the kitchen for you, just ask!"

This gesture will quickly get your restaurant in the favorite category among families. It's something you don't expect but is so appreciated. Love their kid's menu too – lots of healthy choices available.

Out to Eat With Kids founder and CEO, Jennifer Bilbro started her career as an educator of biology, anatomy/physiology and personal health. After the birth of her son in 2002, and her daughter in 2004, she became a stay-at-home mom who eventually created the website out of frustration for not being able to find an up-to-date resource for standalone kids' specials at restaurants. Bilbro sought out restaurants that offered kids specials to help families save money, and that also offered healthy options. The site officially launched in 2010 and expanded nationally this year. It now includes more than 12,000 participating restaurants, including those that participate in the National Restaurant Association's Kids LiveWell program. Bilbro also offers consultation services for restaurants to help optimize their strategy to better serve families.

Photo provided by Frankly PM.


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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Emily Strangerous
    Seems like the author is more than a little bit "entitled". As a mom I can agree to a point with some of these. Like the small step in the family friendly bathroom. But really, waitstaff spend twice as much time (read payroll) at tables with small children, and cleaning up after them. Restaurants are "required to" install expensive equipment to cater to them. And now the author insists they "eat free" with drinks included. Really? More likely throw free food all around the table where their oblivious parents sit. As well as provide books that will more than likely be spilled upon, and or torn to shreds? Since when did restaurants have to provide entertainment as well as food? My generation did not take our children "out" until we were quite certain that they could and would behave and/or respectfully entertain themselves. Kid friendly is one thing. Catering to a selfish entitled generation is quite another.
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